Good Grief

celtic spirituality family story


When it first arrives, you think there’s been some kind of a mistake, surely it meant to sit down next to someone else. You distract yourself, move on, until you finally realize its not going anywhere. So you spend time together, without really acknowledging it exists because, lets face it – you know grief, you’ve been there before. You don’t need any kind of re-introduction. Sure you can tag along if you want to, but don’t get too comfortable.

Then there comes that day, when you’re sitting alone in your car, and all the music sounds horrible and all the talk radio sounds like bullshit so heinous it will ruin the upholstery if you let it yammer on for ONE MORE SECOND! You finally turn to your companion and say – “So, whats up?”

All it takes is one moment of surrender for that subterranean lake to open up within you.

When the two of you first start talking it can sound a little bit like a murder of Crows run through a Death Metal music amplifier. Emotions pop in every which way, you say nutty things, you feel like you’re walking around in the wrong skin. Eventually though you settle into each other, stop resisting the weight of it all. You learn not to move away from it, you learn that it has something to teach you, somewhere to take you.

As the days roll by you turn to grief more and more to answer questions like: “why did I do that” or “it seems so strange to have a response like that, what gives?” Boundaries of some kind evolve, sometimes you’re in the water, sometimes you’re of the water. There are still kids and work and breakfast and taking out the garbage.

After spending a good amount of time together, I feel like I’m becoming a pretty good companion to grief. We were on a run together the other day when I passed an acquaintance, someone who had been swallowed alive by a grief I can’t even imagine. She was deep in thought, hiding behind dark glasses, being with whatever companions she has now. I realized I didn’t need to change her journey. Grief has taught me that much at least.

I was down with the flu on Monday when the rains were still heavy and hard. It was one of those sicknesses I was ultimately grateful for, I needed the time and I needed the cleanse. I got to nap for the first time in what feels like years. My joints aching I crawled under the covers and reached for the window…

Then you realize it was grief that reminded you to open the window so you could fall asleep to the rain, and you’re grateful.

Robert Bly said that grief is the initiation of a man into his real feelings [thats a horrible paraphrasing on my part], Martin Prechtel thinks its the inseparable companion of praise. I’ve begun to think grief is the first step into elder-hood, the beginning of taking responsibility for yourself, truly stepping into the world as it is, not as you want it to be.

All this feels right as I’m turning 50 in a few days, that has switched something on in me. There’s dental work and doctors, the minutia of a modern aging life. My two year old ran off with my drivers license, I now have an “older me” with a grey-goatee photo. Several older colleagues died recently, reminding me that our circle extends after life as well.

I scheduled my Reclaiming Wildness workshop a few weeks ahead out of 50-geddon, and in truth I knew grief would be a part of our work. One of the members of the workshop called out a deep well of grief she felt immanent in our process. We welcomed it, did not ask it to move. I can’t speak for her but its presence felt right to me as we were working to reclaim animal-ancestry that has lain unacknowledged in Western culture for centuries.

I’ve rediscovered many connections through my opening relationship to grief: people, moments with them I’d long forgotten. I feel myself bound by love to those who are dead, partly dead and long since gone. Perhaps thats why the Celts honored sorrow as a necessary element in the alchemy of any spiritual journey. Grief enables us to reach forward and back at the same time, joining both with ancestors and descendents as we walk through our days. Sorrow makes the cauldron spirit can fill.

watching feet grow

My sons delicate journey lays before him,
I want to suffer all the wounds for him,
but I’ll not sell him such a tiny life.
His sister pulls him backward to younger years,
urging him to remember his gracious heart.
We pave his road with gravel and laughter.
I sit back and watch his feet grow.
She is still almost
just arriving.

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